[CES 2011] CES 2011 was an unanimously better CES than 2010. There were more interesting announcements, better (and smarter) technology, and a lot of products did seem to have genuine user-centric qualities. Obviously, consumer electronics manufacturers always try to make something that “sells”, but with difficult economic times, they had to question their old ways, and realize that there’s stuff that we “need” and those that we “want”. You might say “duh”, but believe me, last year was all about “features” (HDMI 1.4, yay…) but now we’re hearing about “user experience” all over. That’s probably one of the rare positive things that came out of this recession. That new user experience is only one trend, here are the other CES 2011 trends that you don’t want to miss:
Everything gets “smart”
Almost a decade ago, we started to hear about smart appliances. You know, that’s the connected fridge that tells you when your food is going to turn bad, and also what you can cook with the current supplies in the fridge. It’s been a huge “flop” so far, but manufacturers are trying to stage a comeback. Why? Back then, “smartness” came at a huge price. You basically had to have a PC in your appliance. These days, all it takes is to use the previous-generation smartphone hardware that nobody wants in smartphones. Combine that with a free Android OS, and you’ve got smartness potential, at an affordable price. With cost out of the way, the usage models needs to be nailed down – this is not done yet, but one day, you’ll probably get Android integrated in your fridge whether you paid extra for it or not.
User Experience (Finally) Matters
For the past two decades, the name of the game was to cram as many features as possible in a device. “it does everything and is compatible with everything” seemed to have been the tagline for many devices. Now, things have changed: you hear less about features (that you might never need anyway) and electronics manufacturers do seem to care about that (horrible) user TV interface that they’ve been using for years. With the economic downturn, it’s more important than ever to make people “want” to buy stuff that they most definitely don’t “need”. Not every manufacturer will be able to make that “consumer experience” turn, but it’s great that experience has officially become a subject of intense competition.
3D From Top to Bottom
We know, some of you are rolling your eyes over already, but whether you want it or not, the electronics industry has decided that 3D is the way forward. 3D is getting into everything that has a display. 3D-enabled tablets are being studied and pretty much all the new TVs are getting the 3D treatment. This year, even pocket camcorders like the updated Sony Bloggie will get 3D (soon, you’ll get a 3D camera for the price of a regular camera). 3D is a little bit like the “Bluetooth” (a short range wireless protocol present in all cellphones) of the visual world: most people aren’t willing to pay an extra for it, but it’s going to be integrated anyway. Even smartphones are starting to get dual-lens 3D cameras. The clear winners: companies who make the optics. 3D has doubled their total available market.
It’s clear that 2011 will be the year of the tablet. The industry now has a grasp on what it takes to manufacture a tablet, how to run it (mainly with Android) and most importantly: what people want to do with it. In some ways, you could say that “Apple has shown the way”, and that the rest of the industry is now working together to compete with Apple. Last year’s tablet debacle is now firmly behind and we are starting to see meaningful products that should provide real value – beyond the mere form-factor.
How big this market will be is unknown and remains largely dependent on how “useful” apps and devices will be. The tablet market is all about software and usage models, and it is basically up to Google (which provides the Operating System) and app developers to pull this one off.
Computers Have Not Lost Their Mojo
With all the noise about tablets, we often forget that 1 million PCs are sold every single day (Apple sold 8M iPads or so). Intel was quick to point out that laptops were the #1 “most wished for” holiday gift, 3 years in a row. And that’s no surprise: the computer is still the best way to get on the web, and to do things that people care about. It is also the most productive computing tool out there. Smartphones and tablets are considered to be peripheral/secondary devices by many users. People still “need” computers, and advances by both Intel and AMD combined with the rise of solid state drive (SSD) storage have made computers much better than they were a couple of years ago. Battery life has also soared since it has become a major competing ground. Expect this trend to continue for some time. The computer is still the discrete giant of the industry.
ARM, Low Power and Continued Chip Integration
ARM, a processor design company, is behind much of the mobile computing revolution. Their chip designs are used in the large majority of mobile devices, although each ARM customer (Marvell, NVIDIA, FreeScale, Qualcomm…) do work very hard to add co-processors and to build an overall system that performs better than the competition. “Low-power” and affordability is what allows smartness to be everywhere, and without ARM, things would simply not be at this level right now. (note that ARM sells only the core design, or license the instruction set. Its customers can design their own implementation from the ground up if they so desire)
On a higher level, chip integration continues at an amazing rate, whether it is based on ARM or Intel X86 architecture. If anything, this trend has seen a discontinuity over the past couple of years and particularly this year. Expect to see quad-core ultra-low voltage processors in 2011 with ever faster graphics and video acceleration.
Materials are going to be as important as chips in the next decade, and you might have seen efforts to conserve the environment by using corn and other bio-degradable materials to replace plastic. This segment of the industry doesn’t have the marketing muscles to promote itself, but it’s worth noting that today, things like computer cables, or even computer backpacks can use corn and other non-petroleum based materials to either become more carbon-friendly, or even completely bio-degradable (if left exposed to the elements, in a dumping ground for example). The cost-effectiveness of using these materials is still a challenge, but at some point, we’ll have choices to make… or nature will make them for us.